Rasha is the story of a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl who finds herself abandoned by her parents who have gone their separate ways in other countries. Her mother uproots her from her urban lifestyle in Dhaka and her school, and leaves her in a village with her eccentric grandmother. Rasha&’s nani has never been the same since her husband disappeared during the Bangladesh freedom struggle of 1971. Rasha finds herself struggling to adjust in a world very different from the one she has left behind. Villagers are curious but friendly; the school she joins is named after a razakar and dominated by a hard-handed corrupt teacher. However, Rasha has the advantage of a big heart and town technology. She knows how to use a fax and a computer and she is a good student with record marks in her own right. She also has the benefit of open-minded friends who are willing to welcome a girl with city ways to the village.
At one level Rasha is a novel about coming of age. At another it has something important to say about Bangladesh in the wake of the war of freedom, where war heroes are still to be found in the countryside, men content to live in simplicity. What we see is a world that has not yet recovered from that desperate struggle where those who fought on the Pakistani side still walk free and manage to earn more money and power than the freedom fighters ever did.
There are descriptions of the lakes and ponds of the Bangladeshi countryside, features that helped the freedom fighters battle the Punjabi troops from Pakistan. Along with boatbuilding stories and other details that make the village come alive.
For those who believe in the importance of parents to a child&’s life, this book may be a disappointment. Rasha&’s mother and father have gone their own ways never to return — though her mother does send touristy postcards from her new home in Australia with no intention of taking her daughter to join her. Iqbal’s message is that friends, grandparents and intelligence are the best tools for survival, crowned by a generous spirit, and that marrying young is no solution for a girl. Rasha is independent and free to fight for whatever she believes is right which is significant when looked at in the climate of sharia law and hijabs. Her story ends realistically — everything is not happy but there is closure and Rasha&’s nani comes to accept her husband&’s death.
Arunava Sinha&’s lively translation captures the spirit of the original.
The reviewer is a freelance contributor.